At the top of the stairs was a broad landing; then a corridor through which they passed, and on. They turned to the left, and as they went it was apparent that they were near the royal apartments. There were thick leather rugs lying here and there; along the walls stood magnificent pieces of furniture, inlaid tables with tall dragon-jars upon them, suits of Venetian armour elaborately worked in silver, and at the door of every room that opened on the corridor there was standing a sentry or a servant, who straightened themselves at the sight of the Archbishop. He carefully acknowledged each salutation, and nodded kindly once or twice.
There was a heavy odour in the air, warm and fragrant, as of mingled stuffs and musk, which even the wide windows set open towards the garden on the right hand did not wholly obliterate.
For the first time since leaving Charing, Chris’s heart quickened. The slow stages of approach to the formidable presence had begun to do their work; if he had seen the King at once he would not have been moved; if he had had an hour longer, he would have recovered from his emotion; but this swift ordered approach, the suggestiveness of the thick carpets and furniture, the sight of the silent figures waiting, the musky smell in the air, all combined now to work upon him; he began to fancy that he was drawing nearer the presence of some great carrion-beast that had made its den here, that was guarded by these discreet servitors, and to which this smooth prelate, in the role of the principal keeper, was guiding him. Any of these before him might mark the sanctuary of the labyrinth, where the creature lurked; one might open, and a savage face look out, dripping blood and slaver.
A page threw back a door at last, and they passed through; but again there was a check. It was but one more waiting room. The dozen persons, folks of all sorts, a lawyer, a soldier, and others stood up and bowed to the prelate.
Then the party sat down near the further door in dead silence, and the minutes began to pass.
There were cries from the river once or twice as they waited; once a footstep vibrated through the door, and twice a murmur of voices sounded and died again.
Then suddenly a hand was laid on the handle from the other side, and the Archbishop rose, with Sir James beside him.
There was still a pause. Then a voice sounded loud and near, and there was a general movement in the room as all rose to their feet. The door swung open and the Garter King-at-Arms came through, bland and smiling, his puffed silk sleeves brushing against the doorpost as he passed. A face like a mask, smooth and expressionless, followed him, and nodded to the Archbishop.
Cranmer turned slightly to his party, again made that little movement, and went straight through.
Chris followed with Mr. Herries.